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Team USA's quest for the cup ended with a 45-12 semifinal loss to New Zealand Tuesday at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast. The game was competitive through the first 40 minutes, with the Eagles staying within two scores at halftime, and it could have been closer. However, the Black Ferns exploded for 30 points in the second half to put the game out of reach. All-World winger Portia Woodman tallied an incredible four tries in the process.
New Zealand struck first in the fourth minute with a try from flyhalf Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali. The conversion kick was missed, leaving the Eagles down 5-0.
The Black Ferns were close to notching another try after a successful cross kick deep in the American end, but a timely poach by Naya Tapper allowed the Eagles to clear their lines. New Zealand tried to keep the ball in but ended up giving the USA a lineout, and a breakdown penalty furthered the Eagles downfield.
The Eagles managed to put on some pressure and force the Kiwis into a rare mistake, kicking the ball out on the full just outside the 22-meter line. However, the lineout woes that have plagued them the entire tournament, slowed momentum.
The USA kept the ball in the attacking end, thanks in large part to a gashing run from Tapper. She apparently got away with a knock-on in a tackle, but soon after Cheta Emba connected with Kristen Thomas on an offload, and the wing escaped Woodman for the score. Alev Kelter slotted the touchline conversion, putting the Americans up 7-5.
The lead would be short lived, as an Eagle forward was pinged for not releasing in a breakdown immediately following the restart, and New Zealand banged over three points to go ahead 8-7 near the 20-minute mark.
Woodman atoned for the defensive error by storming through the American defense off an attacking scrum in the 26th minute. She slipped past Kimber Rozier, Kelter and Tapper on the way to her 10th try of the tournament. The extra points made it 15-7.
The Americans spent the last 10 minutes of the half knocking at the door of another try. The Kiwi defense held strong until the 38th-minute, when a high tackle gave the USA a very makeable shot at goal well inside the attacking 22 and just a few meters wide of the uprights. Instead of taking a chance to head into intermission down a single score, the Eagles elected to run the penalty and were turned over.
New Zealand had all the momentum coming out of halftime, and the USA defense did well to keep them off the board for about 10-minutes until Woodman scored her second try of the game, again coming off a scrum. This time it was second phase off a cross kick, with the opposite wing offloading to Woodman for the score.
The gap widened in the 54th-minute via a penalty kick after Nicole Heavirland was called for slowing the ball down at a ruck – 23-7.
The Eagles caught the next break when Jordan Gray partially charged down a kick and Kelter took an offload shortly after the pickup, racing to the try line. The score went unconverted, leaving the USA down 23-12 with 20-minutes left to play.
Less than two minutes later, Woodman completed her hat-trick. After a couple of hard-charging runs from the Kiwi forwards, Woodman got the ball on the outside of an under-resourced American defense and ran in. The conversion attempt was missed, putting the Ferns up 28-12.
Woodman added a fourth try in 72nd minute, slamming the door shut on any comeback hopes. She caught the ball with some space again and rounded Emba to put New Zealand up 33-12. That was extended a minute later when Emba knocked on a deep kick and quit playing, as did Thomas, who was standing beside her. The Kiwi fullback raced to the ball, hacked it ahead and appeared to score, but didn’t ground the ball. The Eagles never cleared their lines, though, and another cross kick resulted in a New Zealand try. The Black Ferns would run in another before full time to flatter the scoring line.
The USA will now turn its attention to the third-place match Saturday at 12:00 p.m. ET, where they'll meet the other semifinal loser at Kingspan. By finishing in the top four, the Eagles have already secured their best finish since 1998.